Social Skills for Everyone

ableism, Autism, Disability, Education, Friendship, Infographics, Neurodiversity, Parenting

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[Each of the slides above has its own image description. Slideshow can be paused for ease of reading text. Full transcript at the end of this post, with a downloadable PDF.]

Issues of social inclusion are often persistent throughout a disabled person’s lifespan. Lack of inclusion can be a vicious cycle if non-disabled people are unfamiliar with how to include and interact with disabled people in their community:

1. disabled people are excluded, are segregated to disabled-only spaces, and/or withdraw from community life when they are socially rejected

2. non-disabled people continue to have social spaces and groups that have no disabled people in them, and they never become familiar or intimately connected with disabled people

3. disabled people continue to be rejected or excluded by non-disabled people who are unfamiliar with how to include us

And, REPEAT.

How do we break this cycle? Traditionally, most of the onus has been on disabled people to assimilate and “normalize,” but this not only doesn’t work well, it’s unfair and ableist. Mainstream culture is beginning to realize that non-disabled need to do more to include us without trying to “fix” us, but it’s crucial to understand that acceptance is more than just a feeling. It’s a series of actions, and for most it will require some learning and listening to disabled people.

I have a dream that parents of non-disabled children will begin to talk to their kids about disability, as early and as often as possible. Just as with other issues of discrimination, it’s not enough to trust that your kids will be “nice” – even nice, lovely, kind hearted children may discriminate against or exclude disabled children if they simply do not know how to include them, and don’t understand people who are different from themselves in ways that a child can easily perceive.

This guide is a start. Please please share it with your kids and talk to them about what disability inclusion means. It’s not about pity or charity, it’s about equality.

Social Skills for Everyone PDF

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

Cover.
Infographic cover has the title Social Skills for Everyone,” subtitle making friends and getting along.” Above the title are two human figures, one waving their arms with a speech bubble saying hi!” and the other with arms akimbo and a speech bubble containing ellipses. 
Page One.
Infographic text says: You might have noticed… there are all kinds of people in the world. no two are exactly alike. Not even twins! You probably won’t be friends with everyone you meet (and that’s ok!) but learning to get along with people makes life a little better for all of us.” One group of human figures is multicolored, with a green figure waving and saying hello!” A pair of orange figures who look the same as each other stand side by side, one saying I love drawing comic books” and the other saying I don’t draw. But I love Minecraft!” 
Page Two.
Infographic text says: There isn’t only one right way” to socialize… Just like there isn’t only one way to play! Everyone has their own style figure adds, and I think that’s cool!’ and learning someone else’s style is how you include someone new figure adds, and hey, remember… next time, the new person… could be you!’” Bottom image shows a green figure standing in foreground holding/touching their own head, with other figures in the background playing and one waving in greeting to the green new person.
Page Three.
Infographic text says: When you meet someone new… it’s nice to greet them and ever nicer to invite them to talk or play with you.” Image shows two human figures in foreground and two more playing in the background. A green figure waves and says to the orange figure, Hi, I’m Alex. Do you want to play tag with us?’ More text: but what if they don’t answer?” The green figure stands with a question mark thought bubble, while the orange figure touches/holds their own head and stands with a thought bubble containing ellipses.
Page Four.
Infographic text says: It might NOT mean they don’t want to play. Try this! Wait a few more seconds some people just need a little more time to answer questions or think of what to say.” Orange figure has a speech bubble that says …………okay!’ Move so they can see your face some people need to read your lips while you talk.” Two green heads in profile face each other, one with sound waves around mouth. Ask in a different way if they aren’t sure how to answer, using different words might help.” Green figure points to the side and says to orange figure, He’s it.” Let’s run!’ Or maybe just try again later. They might not be ready to join in yet, and that’s okay too!
Page Five.
Infographic text says: Some people do not speak at all (or not very much) but you can still include them! People who don’t speak communicate in other ways, like: Body Language! (orange figure in a variety of poses/gestures), using their voice in other ways (orange laughing face with speech bubble hahaha!’) or even using an app on a tablet! (orange figure holds a black tablet which has a dialog box saying okay. let’s play!’)
Page Six.
Infographic text says: When you meet someone who seems different, you might notice that they look, talk, or act differently than anyone else you’ve met before.” A green figure stands touching/holding their own head with a question mark thought bubble. It’s okay to ask polite questions.” A green figure asks, Does that hurt?’ to an orange figure with a small red mark on their face, who responds, No. It’s just a birthmark.’ More text: It’s good to celebrate our differences AND remember we aren’t all that different on the inside we all pretty much want the same things: to be accepted, to feel we belong, and to have fun doing things we enjoy.” At the bottom is a row of human figures: a green one with arms akimbo, orange one with heart-shaped birthmark, gray one waving arms, green one with headphones high-fiving a gray one with an orange wheelchair.
Image has the text "5 Things I've Learned About Parenting & Gender" followed by five humans figures in pink, white, blue, purple, and green

5 Things I’ve Learned About Parenting & Gender

Identity, Neurodiversity, Parenting

 

When I had my first baby, I had good intentions about not boxing him into a prescribed, stereotypical gender role. But I also had a lot to learn, about gender and about parenting too.

Seven years later, I still have plenty to learn about gender issues (and about parenting too!), but here are a few things I can share:

  1. Gender is not binary.

It’s hard to believe now that I ever thought there were only two genders – especially since I have never fit all that well into the pink/blue dichotomy myself – but I did make that assumption, and a lot of other nice people do too.

Now that I know better, the whole idea of a gender binary seems patently absurd. Nothing about human beings is binary. Do we only come in two different skin tones? Two eye colors? Two body types? Two sexual orientations? Two personalities? Sexual anatomy isn’t binary either, but more of a spectrum, with “intersex” being a term for all of the varieties of anatomy that lie between the binary options most people are familiar with.

So why would gender be the only thing about us that’s so black and white?

It isn’t.

  1. Being transgender is not rare.

When I first had kids I assumed that being transgender was so rare, my kids so statistically unlikely to be trans, I didn’t really have to bother incorporating trans issues into my parenting. I was wrong on two counts. Not only is transgender relatively commonplace, but also, even if my kids are not trans that doesn’t give me a pass to not teach them about transgender identity and trans rights.

The most recent study I’ve seen estimates the US population of transgender people to be around 0.6% of the population; however, I believe it’s most likely much higher, because the study counts people who self-identify as trans. Not only is it not at all safe to be transgender in the US today – on average, over two dozen trans people are reported murdered every year – but many people don’t know that transgender identity includes non binary people, and many don’t know that non binary gender identities exist at all.

Even if my kids don’t fall into the category of transgender people, ignorance always promotes prejudice and bigotry, so I now know it’s my obligation to be inclusive whenever we talk about gender.

  1. Children begin to develop a gender identity around age three.

It’s typical for children to begin to develop a sense of their own gender as early as age two or three, and that identity tends to firm up around age five, though it may become more fluid again later.

However, many adults persist in perceiving this to be a normal gender development only for cisgender* children, and will characterize young transgender children as confused or disordered when they assert their gender at this young age. It’s not fair, humane, or even logical to hold some genders to one developmental yardstick and some to another. If a child in preschool tells us he’s a trans boy, how does it make sense to question if he’s really sure – do we ever ask this question of a cis boy?

The sad irony, of course, is that these waters are muddied by the aggressive efforts of adults to police the genders of young children – even of infants! From the color coding of onesies and toys, to crowing over baby girl’s first pigtails or boy’s first handsome short haircut, to the incessant messaging in children’s media, the pressure to be cisgender that adults put on children from the moment they are born is completely suffocating.

Which leads me to…

  1. It’s Not Enough for Parents to be Passively Nonconformist.

It would be nice if raising our kids with gender freedom was as easy as just NOT gender-coding their toys and shoving them into stereotypical cis roles, but alas, the world around us is hell bent on playing Gender Police. And that means that we have to be vigilant about countering their influences and giving our kids the critical thinking skills to make their own judgment calls on what the world says about gender.

Sometimes the messages are overt – we once had a young friend over who told one of my sons that his stuffed owl was “a girl’s thing” because it was pink. Most of the time they’re more subtle, and pervasive, almost atmospheric – I’ve noticed how many of the kids’ iPad games ask for them to input their gender, and the only options are boy or girl, or pink avatar with long hair versus blue avatar with short hair.

So as a parent, my role goes beyond opting out of gender policing – I have to also equip them with the tools to stand up to gender policing when it happens to them, and to question and counter the cisnormative** messaging they find all around them.

  1. Kids are far more flexible and open-minded than us, if allowed to be.

It’s true that children are not born with prejudice and bigotry in their hearts, but they are born ready to adopt and perform social norms (to varying degrees – neurodivergent children are often slightly less oriented toward conformity, which I count among my blessings in life!). Kids who learn transphobic and sexist culture at home are quick to carry it out in their interactions with peers.

I’ve heard so many adults claim that their young cisgender children are naturally masculine or feminine without any coercion from parents, without acknowledging the subtle ways kids’ gender is policed from birth – and even before birth, with many well meaning parents eagerly pinning a gender on their fetus as early as a 20 week ultrasound! If not subjected to this pressure, however subtle and seemingly benign, most young children could and probably would be more fluid and flexible in their explorations of gender.

One day I was looking at a My Little Pony cartoon with my younger child, and I commented on a pony described as “he” that I’d thought the character was a girl. My kid told me, “well, he’s kind of a boy and a girl at the same time.” Without having it explained to him, my 4 year old easily grasped the concept of a non-binary gender identity.

In that moment I could have chosen to nudge him back toward cisnormative culture, or simply affirmed his intuition; of course, I did the latter. “Oh, that’s cool – you know, some people in real life are a boy and a girl at the same time too.” Life is full of such teaching moments, and how we respond to them influences how our children view not only themselves, but other people who are unlike them in various ways.

It’s challenging at times to walk the fine line of countering cissexist*** messages without insulting the things and people our kids like. It can be painful sometimes to see them exposed to ridicule from peers who are raised differently. But the rewards of raising kids with gender inclusivity are plentiful. I’m so grateful that my children are able to enjoy a wide variety of entertainment and cultural interests without being hemmed in by gendered expectations and stereotypes – I see how this gives them confidence, a sense of self, and pure joy unpolluted by prejudice. And my hopes are high that they will be more compassionate people in the long run, with a good foundation built on principles of equality and respect.

* cisgender or “cis” means a person is the same gender as the one designated or assigned to them at birth based on genitalia – i.e., if a baby is born with a vagina, they are typically designated by doctors and/or parents as a girl but may not be so.

** cisnormative means it’s implicitly assumed that people are cisgender, and/or that cisgender is the default position and transgender is an exception or in any way an “other” type of person – e.g., the common anatomy lesson we give to kids that “girls have vaginas and boys have penises” is cisnormative and not factually correct.

*** cissexist means biased against trans people, including non binary and gender non-conforming people.

Image has the text "5 Things I've Learned About Parenting & Gender" followed by five humans figures in pink, white, blue, purple, and green

Image has the text “5 Things I’ve Learned About Parenting & Gender” followed by five humans figures in pink, white, blue, purple, and green